100 Children to Receive Life-saving Heart Surgery at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital | Western Cape Government


100 Children to Receive Life-saving Heart Surgery at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital

18 November 2010


One hundred Western Cape children are to receive life-saving heart surgery and a new lease on life, thanks to a partnership between the Walter Sisulu Paediatric Cardiac Foundation (WSPCF), Vodacom, and the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital.

Through the partnership, the WSPCF is providing the necessary funds to pay additional nursing staff for a dedicated paediatric cardiac bed in the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital's Intensive Care Unit (ICU). This will allow the hospital to accommodate an increased number of paediatric cardiac patients.

A total of 30 children have already had their surgery, with approximately 70 more operations to follow over the coming months. These operations are only made possible due to a generous R1m donation to the WSPCF from Vodacom.

Keynote speaker at the partnership's launch event, Theuns Botha, Western Cape Minister of Health says, "Provincial government is extremely grateful for the support of the Walter Sisulu Paediatric Cardiac Foundation. Government is unable to carry the costs of health on our own."

"The network of organisations and people who help each other, solve problems together and who produce together, is to the benefit of the people who has the greatest need. It's up to government to offer the framework and the systems to become a real team, but without the private sector we cannot achieve the increase of wellness," he continued.

According to Mthobi Tyamzashe, Chairman of the Vodacom Foundation: "As a long-standing partner of the WSPCF, Vodacom is delighted to know that more disadvantaged children in the Western Cape will now have access to corrective cardiac surgery."

One of the children who have already had a very successful operation and recovery is Igshaan Williams, aged four of Westbank, who a hole in his heart.

"His surgery took place in July this year and it already has had a positive effect on his health," says his Mother, Asa. "He's growing very well now and picking up a lot of weight!"

Another patient who has had a successful operation and is recovering well is seven-year-old Amy Abrahams of Ravensmead, whose operation was a little more complicated.

According to Prof. John Hewitson, the head of Paediatric Cardiac Surgery at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital, Amy had a hole in the heart, which caused irreparable damage to her aortic valve. Previous surgery, which lasted nearly eight hours, had helped her to grow but could not fix the problem.

"On 6th October she had a Ross Procedure, an innovative means of aortic valve replacement particularly suited to children, to repair her heart," Prof. Hewitson explains.

"While the operation is technically more demanding, it has several advantages over traditional valve replacement procedures, especially for children and young adults, or for particularly active patients, as it allows both for growth of the valve and for normal physical activity for the patient. Amy's procedure was successful and she is making a full recovery," he adds.

Both children were 'elective' operations, which mean that they were waiting at home in a stable condition for an open operation slot in the hospital's busy schedules.

Prof. Hewitson says that the waiting list is unacceptably long and almost half of the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital's available operation slots are taken up with urgent cases, which mean that surgeons cannot deal with the full load of patients on the waiting list.

"The Walter Sisulu Paediatric Cardiac Foundation has provided funding to open an extra ICU bed each week at the hospital, thus allowing more of these waiting children to receive their life-saving surgery," he explains.

The average waiting list for corrective cardiothoracic surgery at the hospital is around 200 children, with an estimated waiting period of eight months.

"With this funding, we aim to slash - almost by half - the waiting list for paediatric cardiac surgery by giving the hospital the capacity to provide heart surgery to approximately 100 children this year, which is very exciting for us and for the children who are on our waiting lists and their parents," Prof. Hewitson adds.

Dr Anita Parbhoo, Senior Medical Superintendent at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital says: "Our hospital is the provincial centre for paediatric cardiac surgery, but access to an ICU bed is often the bottleneck, thus hampering our ability to perform cardiac surgery.

"With our new operating theatre complex that opened a year ago, we have a specially designated theatre for cardiac surgery. By funding additional nursing capacity for an ICU bed, the Walter Sisulu Paediatric Cardiac Foundation has increased our capacity to perform cardiac surgery and will enable us to significantly increase the number of cardiac operations done this financial year.

"Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital is very grateful to have partnered with the Walter Sisulu Paediatric Cardiac Foundation and is thankful to the Vodacom Foundation for their generous sponsorship," Dr. Parbhoo adds.

The WSPCF is the largest philanthropic paediatric cardiac foundation in Africa, established as a living legacy to the late Walter Sisulu, which focuses on the delivery of life-saving surgery and intervention for underprivileged children with congenital heart disorders from across Africa.

The 409 operations funded by the WSPCF since its launch in 2003 have, to-date, been undertaken at the Walter Sisulu Paediatric Cardiac Centre for Africa in Johannesburg's Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, and Cape Town's Netcare Christian Barnard Memorial.

Now for the first time, the WSPCF's work has been extended to also include the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital.

"The surgical and support team at the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital is unbelievably skilled and very well-equipped, thanks to the wonderful work of hospital management as well as the fund-raising efforts of the Children's Hospital Trust, and we're delighted to have partnered with such a centre of excellence in the Cape Region," WSPCF's CEO, Lynda Bleazard says.

"Still, fewer than 20% of children in South Africa and less than 1% of children in the rest of Africa benefit from corrective cardiac surgery - even though 95% of all congenital heart defects are treatable," Bleazard explains.

"The procedures carried out in private hospitals, despite massive discounts, are very expensive and we rely heavily on the generosity of private organisations and donors - such as the Vodacom Foundation - to pay for the operations that the cardiothoracic surgeons perform on children from all over South Africa and the rest of the African continent," Bleazard adds.

She says that the partnership, which is the foundation's first public-sector partnership, has increased the WSPCF's capacity to accommodate more children, reduce waiting lists and allow donors' money to be utilised in more cost-effective ways.

Because of the WSPCF's ongoing commitment to training and development, the foundation has also pledged to include staff from the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital in collaborative development programmes, seminars and skills exchange programmes.

Professional Nurse Lungelwa Mfuniselwa from the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital was the first recipient of this commitment when she was funded to attend the recent 2010 South African Critical Care Congress.

Media Enquiries: 

Lauren O'Connor-May
Principal Communications Officer
Tel: 021 658 5448
Cell: 084 586 1413
Fax: 021 658 5333
E-mail: rxhpro@pgwc.gov.za